It’s that time of year again—when we grit our teeth and pick the weirdest, goofiest, grossest, silliest and freakiest ads of the year. The 2010 crop had it all: death, sex, zombies, farting, car accidents, domestic abuse, cancer, clowns, guys rubbing their own testicles on their face. You really couldn’t ask for much more. Check out the winners (in some cases, losers) below. We still have a month to go in 2010, so we promise to update this list with anything particularly insane from December. For now, enjoy.
“Super Sexy CPR”
Red Urban, Toronto
We begin, logically enough, with lesbian CPR. This Canadian video from Fortnight lingerie is one of the racier first-aid demonstrations you’ll ever see—and pretty salacious as lingerie ads go, too. Two Fortnight-clad ladies show proper CPR technique, including the firm but tender chest compressions and all-important mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Thankfully, the victim recovers from her life-threatening condition—had she perished, we’d be in a whole different kind of fetish video. The marketer did a followup, “Super Sexy Abdominal Thrusts,” making its mark as the official lingerie of suggestive instructional videos.
Digital Kitchen, New York
A&E created a reality series about David Hasselhoff and his two daughters, who are “aspiring singers.” (Update: It was canceled after two episodes.) To promote it, the network rolled out this clip from Digital Kitchen showing a pint-size Hoff trucking down the beach, the ocean breeze gently caressing his toddler chest hair, as hot women look on. “Some people are born awesome,” says the tagline. Those same people later drunkenly eat burgers off the floor, but that’s OK. The Hoff is badly in need of mothering at every age, so this promo is right on. Watch out, Huggies jeans-diaper boy. There’s a new kid in town.
TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York
Starburst is advertising itself lately as a contradiction—a solid candy that’s also juicy, like a liquid. The idea was introduced in 2009 with a Scottish Korean father and son, who, like Starburst, “don’t make a wee bit o’ sense.” The Scottish Koreans returned in 2010 in this ad from TBWA\Chiat\Day, in which they fend off a bus-riding zombie who thinks “living dead” is the most noteworthy contradiction of all. The earlier spot provoked some odd reactions around the Web (e.g., “I think Korea and Scotland have a lot in common. Both have been invaded repeatedly by their neighbors, both have a reputation for loving the drink a bit, and both have slightly feminine native attire”). Starburst was probably counting on the living dead not to complain this time. The zombie might look familiar—he’s played by Zach Woods, aka Gabe from NBC’s The Office.
“Uncommonly Good Pigs”
Director: Jared Hess, Salt Lake City
Has any human ever serenaded a pig so passionately? Doubtful. Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess went all out with a pair of spots for the Utah State Fair, getting actor Markus T. Boddie to voice his deepest feelings for a pig and a funnel cake (both well-loved Utah State Fair staples). The client wasn’t feeling the love, though, and rejected the ads out of hand, saying they had “sexual undertones” and were “over the top.” Hess believed it was because the actor, Boddie, is black. Boddie sided with Hess. “There are black people here in Utah that aren’t related to Gladys Knight,” he said. “If we embrace that, then I think that’s the image of Utah we want to take forward.” The sow had no comment.
“2 for $3 Croissants”
Secret Weapon, Santa Monica, Calif.
Fast-food commercials are the last place you want to hear about a four-hour erection, but Jack in the Box went there anyway in this spot from longtime agency Secret Weapon Marketing. Two breakfast croissants for $3 is actually a pretty good deal; it’s just a shame that customers have to associate it with Jack’s father’s never-ending boner. On the upside, at least we know Jack’s chronic creepiness was a genetic inheritance, not the result of working at this particular fast-food chain all his life.
“Thirst Is Creepy”
Colenso BBDO, Auckland, New Zealand
Be extra careful if you get a massage in New Zealand. Chances are the masseur will be excessively dehydrated, due to lack of Fresh Up soda, causing him to take on a severely fanged appearance, and speak in a horribly stilted manner—none of which will be very relaxing for you, the customer. “Thirst is creepy,” says the tagline. A classic WTF commercial from the New Zealanders.
And the award for best performance by an overfed corpse in a commercial in 2010 goes to … the guy still clutching a greasy McDonald’s burger in this pro-vegetarian spot from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine! McDonald’s wasn’t overly fond of the “I was lovin’ it” slogan and Golden Arches at the end. “This commercial is outrageous, misleading and unfair to all consumers,” a rep for the chain said. “McDonald’s trusts our customers to put such outlandish propaganda in perspective, and to make food and lifestyle choices that are right for them.” And of course, they always do. McDonald’s sales have been rising all through 2010.
Draftfcb, Mexico City
Luftal, a Bristol-Myers Squibb gas medication sold over the counter in Mexico, offers this unique selling proposition: It will fix your gas problem and therefore calm the gross, jacuzzi-like, fart-churned seas of your bathtub. If you’re lucky, your wife/girlfriend will even fetch the Luftal pill and a glass of water for you when the bubble trouble arises—with nary a hint of the utter repugnance she must feel for you inside. Plus, think of all the money you’ll save on air freshener.
“Silent … but Deadly”
Media Corp., Overland Park, Kan.
Sticking with the farting theme for the moment—behold the Better Marriage Blanket, a military-grade fart-absorbing blanket that sounds like, and should be, a B-grade Saturday Night Live ad parody. But no, it’s real. (What would this list be without a ludicrous infomercial?) Leaving aside the question of whether the market demands such a product, are they sure it makes “a great gift” for a wedding or anniversary? Yeah, that will go over well. Your days of sleeping on the couch because of your spouse’s digestive trouble might be over, but your days of sleeping on the couch because you’re an insensitive asshole will just be beginning.
“Gusher for an Eye”
Saatchi & Saatchi, New York
This 90-second piece of oddvertising—Gerry Graf’s swan song at Saatchi & Saatchi—told the tale of Todd, a kid with a squirting blue Fruit Gusher for an eye. His gift/problem is evident from birth, as he immediately douses his mom with a powerful hose of sticky blue goo. Growing up, he turns out to be a crowd favorite, giving friends a quick squirt-on-the-go, and even providing Dad with a surreptitious slurp. The problem will be when he grows up and tries to join the working world. He’ll be stunted and shunned, like almost all adult figures in candy commercials. Until then, keep gushing.
Wieden + Kennedy, Portland, Ore.
We’re including this more for the whole campaign than any individual spot. Has there been a weirder, more loony ad character from a major marketer in recent memory than Maria Bamford’s bat-shit-crazy, shopping-obsessed Christmas Lady from Wieden + Kennedy’s Target ads? Overzealous holiday shoppers are a common trope, but rarely are they as serial-killery as Bamford. (In her stand-up comedy career, she’s known for her jokes about depression and loneliness, which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with these ads.) The oddest part is that 2010 was a return engagement for the Christmas Lady—which means she presumably moved product in 2009. You have to salute Target for taking the leap with her, not once but twice. Now, please make her go away.
Not a commercial proper—more of an ambush. For this stunt PSA on behalf of St. John’s Ambulance, BBH treated a live audience of moviegoers in London to an idyllic family scene that turns ghastly when one of the daughters begins to choke on popcorn. Not knowing how to handle the situation, the parents panic—and the mother screams for help as the girl goes limp. Suddenly, a woman stands up in the audience, shouts that she can help, and hurries backstage in the movie theater—she then appears on screen and saves the day, emphasizing the importance of knowing first aid. It was a clever trick that mostly redeems the unpleasant shock tactics. The audience applauds at the end, though it’s unclear whether they appreciated the experience or are just being polite as the actress returns to her seat.
TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York
The first of two Skittles ads from TBWA\Chiat\Day on our list, this one featured a guy with a pesky Skittles tree growing out of his stomach. He’s filthy and tired and just wants to have the thing looked at, and hopefully removed, so he can go to college and have a life. But his nightmare of a mom won’t hear of it. His miraculous Skittles bounty at harvest time is just too valuable. The ad sticks closely to the Skittles formula, with a guy who is both blessed and cursed by the candies, and battling a wrecked anatomy for good measure. Directed by Guy Shelmerdine.
Lowe Strateus, Paris
Our Freakiest Ads of 2009 collection last year included a brutal drunk-driving PSA from New Mexico that was told in reverse, beginning with a dead girl whispering to her guilt-ridden father in prison and proceeding backwards to when the tragedy was still avoidable. This Lowe Strateus spot for Sécurité Routière in France uses the same trick. It opens with a wrenchingly realistic hospital scene (the dude lost a leg!) and tracks back to a few hours earlier, when the driver avoids his fate by choosing to spend the night at a friend’s house. The New Mexico spot was maybe more jarring, as its message was even bleaker—offering no chance of reprieve. But the French ad has the bloody stump. OK, let’s call it even!
Director: Dougal Wilson, U.K.
The 10:10 environmental campaign, aimed at getting individuals to cut their carbon emissions by 10 percent a year starting in 2010, misfired spectacularly with this video from comic screenwriter Richard Curtis and director Dougal Wilson (and featuring a bizarre cameo from Gillian Anderson at the end). The idea was: Anyone who doesn’t want to cut their carbon emissions will get blown up, literally, creating a bloody mess. This was depicted perhaps a tad too realistically, as viewers generally howled their disapproval. That reaction eventually prompted an apology from the 10:10 people, but not before they replied brusquely: “We ‘killed’ five people to make ‘No Pressure’—a mere blip compared to the 300,000 real people who now die each year from climate change.”
Spot is NSFW. TBWA Paris has done some impressive work on behalf of AIDES, the French association dedicated to fighting HIV and AIDS. (We included one of the agency’s animated spots in our recent feature on epic ads.) This clip is no different, featuring whimsically obscene bathroom graffiti fleeing a penis as it tries to have a good time—without a condom. Eventually it cleans up its act, which is more than you can say for those bathroom stalls. Man, they are filthy! Directed by Yoann Lemoine.
DDB Toronto went the horror-movie route with this anti-smoking spot in which an attractive young woman takes a drag off a fag and instantly transforms into a haggard old goat. “Every cigarette you smoke can take years off your life,” says the copy. The ad gets high marks for creepiness, though one could argue that a good way to keep from getting old and wrinkly is actually to smoke more cigarettes, thus boosting your chances for an early exit, before those awkward elderly years hit. In fact, if smoking made people prematurely wrinkly, as opposed to prematurely dead, there would probably be a lot fewer smokers around.
McCann Erickson, Bangkok, Thailand
We didn’t include many Asian ads on this list (weird Japanese commercials alone could fill 10 times this space), but we had to mention this Thai floor-cleaner spot, as well as the Indonesian mouthwash ad below. In McCann’s Vixol spot, the grime between a floor’s tiles is personified by a bizarre, tiny, stretchy, rubberlike man who won’t budge—despite the best efforts of an exhausted homemaker and two muscly, white-afroed guys representing Brand X. But Vixol, portrayed simply by a woman dressed up as a Vixol bottle, calls to the horrid brown Gumby, and he jumps up and runs off. Exceptionally odd.
Ogilvy & Mather, Jakarta, Indonesia
Likewise, this Indonesian spot by Ogilvy & Mather for Frezza mouthwash is off-the-charts strange. It is surely the year’s only dental-care commercial to feature a person being put to death in a gas chamber. “Bad breath kills,” says the tagline, as the doomed prisoner is strapped into his chair and subjected to the noxious exhalations of a bunch of dudes with nasty, rotten teeth. These guys need a dentist more than a new brand of mouthwash. Weird idea, but hey, great execution!
“The Intimate Scent of a Beautiful Woman”
Spot is NSFW. In America, you can’t even say the word vagina on TV. In Germany, things are more lax. You can create a scent called Vulva Original, featuring the actual aroma of its namesake, and advertise it with a commercial showing a dude sniffing the seat of an exercise bike that’s just been ridden by a woman. Yes, the ad is NSFW, but it’s like a PBS Kids special compared to the gallery of print work on the Web site. Doesn’t make a great gift.
Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco
Walmart’s “Clown” spot from Publicis & Hal Riney was such a departure from the retail giant’s usual image that it bordered on weird self-mockery. It connected something everyone should hate (i.e., Walmart) with something they already hate (i.e., clowns). The setup is innocuous enough, but the guy’s scream (after he impales his foot on a plastic unicorn) goes on so long, it becomes uncomfortable—even menacing. The wife reacts nonchalantly, and the chirpy Walmart music tries to lighten the mood. But don’t kid yourself—Daddy’s got issues. The children were smart to hightail it out of there before the sad clown really loses it.
TBWA\Chiat\Day, New York
This second, and freakier, Skittles spot on our list (along with the “Plant” ad at No. 18) heralded the arrival of Fruit Fizzl’d Skittles, which make your tongue snap, crackle and pop. To promote the candies, TBWA\Chiat\Day introduced an elderly couple who are intent on sparking up their taste buds. The wife simply eats Fruit Fizzl’d Skittles. The husband, making things more complicated than they need to be, prefers to have a giant tube-sock slave pad around the house and zap him in the tongue with the static electricity. As ad characters go, Tube Sock is a truly sad bastard—a faceless, hulking mass of servitude, with one leg inexplicably thicker than the other, doomed to unquestioningly perform his senile master’s bidding. The kids, of course, loved him. The spot was directed by Ulf Johansson, who will show up again below with another spot in the top 10.
Young & Rubicam, Frankfurt, Germany
One of the most striking PSAs of the year, this spot from Y&R in Germany (and director Titus Twister) tackled the problem of women falling down stairs. Or more to the point, women not falling down stairs. According to Osocio, everyone involved in the production worked for free: the stunt women, the actors, the 2-D and 3-D animators, the musicians and color graders. Also, the music was an original composition created specifically for the spot. Perhaps most remarkably, it was only the second-best domestic-violence spot of the year produced by the Y&R network.
Director: Daniel Cox, Sussex, England
This one might be a stretch, but we’re including it anyway—the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership’s famous plea for seatbelt use. Many safe-driving PSAs are freaky because of all the blood and guts. This one’s the opposite. It doesn’t feature a single mangled body, piercing scream or gut-wrenching sob. It doesn’t even feature a car—just a man and his wife and daughter make-believe acting out an accident scene in slow motion in their living room. Yet it’s just as emotionally powerful—in fact, more so—than all the gore and mayhem that are the category’s stock in trade. No spot has ever connected seatbelts, love and life quite so exquisitely. In that sense, it was the year’s freakiest road-safety spot. With more than 12 million views on YouTube as of this writing, it also reached a massive global audience—and was recognized at the U.K.’s Campaign Media Awards in November with the inaugural YouTube Ad of the Year award.
CHI & Partners, London
Juice brand Drench brought us one of the year’s most puzzling characters: a subway traveler with a Rubik’s Cube-like head. The guy is all discombobulated upstairs, and needs to suck down some Drench to solve the mess, as the song “Oops Upside Your Head” by the Gap Band plays. Copy at the end reads, “Brains perform best when they’re hydrated. Stay drenched.” Two masks were built for the spot—one for the wide shots, with the actor walking down the platform, and a second as a model for the moving cubehead. The actor’s facial expressions were then filmed, and superimposed on the mask. Sounds like a real headache! Directed by Ulf Johansson, who also did Skittles’ “Tube Sock” spot, at No. 10 on our list.
“Grocery Store Lady”
BBDO, New York
Probably the best-known freaky commercial of the year, Snickers’ first-ever Halloween spot succeeded greatly in creeping out its audience. A giant, warbly-voiced lady in what looks like a Jocelyn Wildenstein mask approaches a shopper at a grocery store and begins loading her cart with Snickers. Not content to make candy suggestions, the creature also caresses the terrified shopper’s face. By the end of the spot, it’s revealed that the freaky lady is just two kids playing dress-up. Or is it—more ominously—a boy and his father? Hey, you never know. Mars rep Lauren Nodzak feigned innocence, saying the ad was simply geared toward moms who “want to impress during Halloween and provide the best costumes, candy and hospitality.”
“The Daily Routine”
The year’s most off-putting visual—a guy rubbing a disembodied scrotum all over his face—was served up in this unbelievable video for the True Clean Towel. It’s a real product that features the outline of a body printed on it, so you know which part of the towel you should use to dry your face, and which part you should use to dry your groin—and never the twain shall meet. If you fail to keep track, the ad suggests, you will end up rubbing your genitals all over your face. “Know where your towel has been” is the tagline. The towel is available for $19 (or just $15 if you order by Dec. 3). “By working our butts off, we have kept costs down,” the creators explain on the Web site. Technically, though, they worked their balls off. The Old Spice guy, arbiter of all things male and bathroom, would not approve.
Santo, Buenos Aires, Argentina
A shoe-car hunts down an ass-car in a remote desert, corners it and kicks its ass in this insane video for Diesel sneakers. Then, surprisingly, a love affair ensues. The pair ride off together into the sunset, locked in an obscene embrace, as copy reads: “I feel I wasn’t made for running, but to kick you tender till the end of time.” There was plenty of assvertising in 2010, and this global Diesel campaign supplied about half of it. Dozens of videos and print ads offered the same basic message: that asses are made for kicking, preferably by Diesel-made footwear.
Del Campo Nazca Saatchi & Saatchi, Buenos Aires, Argentina
A man with a baby’s head. Or is it a baby with a man’s body? Either way, it’s disconcerting. This point of this Argentine spot for the PS3 was that gamers should retain their childlike wonder as they grow older—or as the tagline says, “Live in a state of play.” Thus, we see our heroic but confused man-baby progressing through life in a literally regressive state, playing with his shaving cream and a female co-worker’s earring, giggling at remote-control car locks—but unable to hold back the tears when confronted with a barking dog. He’s an emotional wreck, which actually doesn’t seem like a very fun way to live. Still, the commercial does have its charms, with the expert special effects endowing the overgrown baby with a freaky quality that’s endearing as well.
“It Rarely Stops”
Young & Rubicam, Chicago
Bruises and cuts heal on a battered woman’s face, only to bloom anew, in this harrowing PSA from @radical.media director Dave Meyers and Y&R in Chicago, depicting the endless cycle of domestic violence. The stark approach evocatively and depressingly illustrates the tagline, “It rarely stops.” The bathroom, with its door cracked open and spooky windows, heightens the feeling of unease. So does the dirge-y soundtrack (Emoto’s version of Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street”). It’s a quietly sad, sickening, hypnotic experience. So much so that the woman’s sudden movement at the end—presumably hearing her abuser return—is exceptionally jarring. But the spot also offers the possibility of freedom from stasis—a hotline number for when it’s time to stop hoping and start healing.